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News & Features » October 2013 » “Burnt Ground” by Thomas Mitchell

“Burnt Ground” by Thomas Mitchell

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Thomas Mitchell tells the tale of a deadly return to a New Zealand town. Next week, Robert Arellano takes us out to dinner at Omar’s. authorimage_thomasmitchell

Burnt Ground
by Thomas Mitchell
Mt. Albert, Auckland, New Zealand

—Why’d you come? she said.
—The boys were busy, I guess.

I looked around. Her Nana’s house was just how I remembered: another old villa that desperately needed a coat of paint. I tried not to look at her. I could remember how good Tala looked, dressed and undressed.

—Then come in, she said. I have to watch Nana or I’d be at Pasifika too.

She hadn’t seemed that surprised to find me at her door. I remembered the secret history we had together, the way her hands had stroked my arms, my chest, and everything beyond.

—They said I should ask if you had any extra taro, I told her, glancing back at the garden.

I saw the umu pit had been filled in. The digging was still fresh and it would take time for the lawn to cover the bare patch of blackened, volcanic soil.

—You can come in for a drink of water, can’t you? she said, walking away into the kitchen.

I glanced down at the legs and arse wrapped firmly in a blue-striped summer dress. I knew that was a mistake straightaway. Those legs had been mine once. After choir practice at church and after school some days. When I went to Australia five years ago, I had missed those legs maybe the most of all.

—What’s Ata up to these days? I said, remembering I wasn’t the only one who had moved on.

She put a glass under the tap, filling it quickly.

—He was in jail, didn’t you hear? He killed some palagi he hit at rugby. He got out a few months ago.

—He’s back?

—There’s other things he did. I told him to stay away. I’m told him I would raise Joshua on my own.

—So you’ve got a kid together?

She nodded. I couldn’t believe how much our lives had changed in a few short years.

—He’s at the festival with his aunty. Didn’t your family give you any news about home?

I took the glass of water from her hands, drinking it down quickly while she studied me, the directness in her eyes something else I remembered. I could never lie to her when she looked at me like that. I put the empty glass down on the bench, my throat even drier than before.

—Nah, I told her, not really.

I had wanted it that way. Nobody needed to know that I’d been laid off from my job thanks to the recession. Or that I was basically living out of my car, doing labouring jobs for cash.

—You better wear his boots when you go outside, she told me. It’s muddy in the garden and the scoria will cut your feet.

She fetched a large pair of gum boots from the laundry.

—These were Ata’s? I said.

—He won’t want them back.

I bent down to put them on and she rested her hands on my shoulders as I did it. They were shaking.

—Oh, Samuel, she said quietly. I killed him. Last week. I killed him with his spade and I just buried him in the umu.

I stood up. She was looking at me directly. Those eyes had clouds underneath them. Tears ran down her cheeks.

I wriggled my feet in the boots and glanced out at the bare ground where the cooking pit had once been. The property was large, a full quarter acre. The back of the section was all garden, producing crop after crop for market. That’s why the boys had sent me here. Tala was well known in the community for her gardening. People said she was gifted.

—I better get the veges, I told her, staring down at Ata’s boots.

—You won’t tell anyone, will you? she asked. If it was just me, I’d go to the cops. But it’s Joshua and Nana too. What would happen?

I shook my head, walking past her and outside. I crossed the wet grass to where the taro leaves were turning yellow. She watched me from the door, waiting in the shadows. I used the spade to dig out the vegetables. The same spade, I guessed. When I went back, I’d need to be careful to put some more dirt on the patch of bare, black earth that was being pressed down by the dull heat of the Auckland sun.


THOMAS MITCHELL lives in Auckland, New Zealand, home to the world’s largest Pacific Islands-themed festival, Pasifika. His poetry has appeared in local journals such as Trout, Takahe, JAAM, Evasion and Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand.  His short fiction has been published in several editions of New Zealand Short Short Stories, local journals and more widely on sites such as Plots with Guns (USA), and Crime Downunder (Australia).


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Oct 28, 2013

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , ,